KANSAS CITY -- A bad hop on the ground ball would've meant a tie game. Same with a less-than-perfect throw to first base. Tony Pena fielded and threw the ball just in time for a crucial eighth-inning play, however, in the Royals' 2-1 victory Saturday Night at Kaufman Stadium.
"It's something that happened so quick," Pena said. "I knew that I was going to have to get the ball out of my hands as soon as possible. So I got lucky I guess."
Really, it took more than just luck.
The Blue Jays loaded the bases in the top of the eighth inning after Alex Rios and Lyle Overbay walked and Matt Stairs singled. With two outs, Adam Lind had the opportunity to drive them in.
He rifled a ground ball into the hole between Pena at shortstop and Alex Gordon at third. Pena made a move to his right and slipped to his knees on the grass, stopping the ball with his backhand.
"If he doesn't get to it," catcher John Buck said, "it's tied up. Just for him to knock the ball down in the hole where he did was an impressive play."
And that was just the first half. He still had to make the throw.
As soon as he got the ball, Buck started screaming three, meaning throw the ball to first. Pitching coach Bob McClure shouted at him to get the ball home. Pena stayed on his knees and fired the ball to Ross Gload at first, getting there just in time to catch Lind for the third out.
"Everybody is screaming different things," Buck recalled. "Obviously, Tony had it under control."
The defensive gem came three innings after Pena made a costly error. In the fifth, with Kansas City up 1-0, he booted a ground ball that he could have turned into a double play if he had fielded it cleanly. Toronto tied the score on the error.
At the end of the inning, starting pitcher Luke Hochevar patted Pena on the back as they walked off the field.
"When your pitcher knows that we all make mistakes," Pena said, "and you know he's got your back, it's something that helps a lot."
Pena's confidence showed in the eighth when it really mattered, and he earned redemption and helped the Royals win.
"It was the most important play at that point in the game," he said.
Mark Dent is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.